He's never had to throw an ankle pick (wrestling takedown) on a horse and pin it to the ground, but college wrestler-turned-jockey David Lopez says he'll do whatever it takes to win a race.
And he may come to the point where he does have to do just that to keep in front of Rohan Singh in the Assiniboia Downs jockey standings over the last eight race days of the season.
Singh, a three-time leading rider is taking a run at him. Since last Wednesday, he has won eight races to one for Lopez, reducing the gap between the two from 64-49 to 65-57. Four of those wins came on Sept. 2 while Lopez was sitting out a two-day suspension for careless riding. Lopez still holds an eight-win lead, but admits that Singh has him concerned.
"You know, it's going to get down to the nitty gritty," said the 30-year-old native of San Diego. "There's eight (race) days left, and it's going to be tough. I still have a few winners left in me, and I know Singh does as well."
In 2005 Lopez said goodbye to a full-ride wrestling scholarship at Cal State Bakersfield, and later Cal State Fullerton, to become a jockey. "I've always been an athlete," he said, adding that he transferred to Fullerton after Bakersfield, where he red-shirted one year and wrestled the next at 128 pounds. "I've always been competitive, and I didn't do too bad, but I found that the academics just weren't for me."
As far apart as the two sports are, Lopez says that there are things he learned from wrestling that he can apply to horse racing. "Dedication, balance and competition, are three for sure. Wrestling is more physical, and he who is stronger wins, but on a horse it is completely different. You have to become as one, and finesse will get you further along than strength. You have to be aggressive and get the run out of the horse, but you also have to get along with it."
Both riders will be busy this weekend. On Friday Lopez has seven mounts and Singh has six. On Saturday's card, Singh has six rides, including the $50,000 Winnipeg Futurity Stakes on Gospel Gal, as well as the $50,000 Gold Cup Stakes on Wicked Vow.
Lopez has five mounts on Saturday. They include Dancing Threads in the Futurity and Southern Alliance in the Gold Cup.
"I am definitely feeling the heat," said Lopez. "As far as it goes right now, I'm going to try to win every race I can, and he is going to do the same. Let the best man win."